The five years that have passed since the release of Ænigma (2013) likely mean that the window of opportunity for In Vain and their phenomenal third outing to become anything more than curious blips on the progressive metal radar. Had the band come back in full force following that most outstanding of records, they may have still been able to solidify their cult status. Unfortunately, while Currents certainly contains its fair share of rewarding moments, it simply isn’t a strong enough release overall for the promising Norwegians to cement their legacy by.
Currents is both a more simplified and experimental release than In Vain have put their names to in the past. Although the palette of albums like Aenigma and 2007’s The Latter Rain are undeniably expansive, both records are easy to pigeonhole into various categories of melodic and more traditionally inclined-progressive metal respectively. Yet, while Currents definitely covers a lot of territory during its deceptively short forty-two-minute running time, it never truly capitalises on any of the many different directions it probes, and the entire outing comes across as less coherent and composed as a result.
Stylistically, Currents is all over the place. Opener “Seekers of the Truth” Death trying their hand at mid-2000s Gothenberg-core (without being anywhere near as awesome as that sounds) while continuously being interrupted by more grandiose melodic passages that simply don’t mesh well with their surroundings. Likewise, “Soul Adventurer” relies on a repetitive, rhythmic-based riff that readily brings to mind later-period Tool, which alternates in between sections of this sort of melancholic folk-metal epic without the two elements ever seeming to properly connect. The track also features a vocal guest spot from Trivium‘s Matt Heafy, which should be enough to elevate the song into the album’s upper echelons on its own. Yet, while Heafy surprised many (not least myself) by delivering one of the most impressive and versatile vocal performances of last year, here he employs a faux-profound deep register which hearkens back to the weaker moments of Silence in the Snow (2015) and ultimately comes off as both contrived and ill-fitting. The main riff itself is ear-catching enough on its own, and its rhythmic hypnosity alone will likely see the song become a staple of the bands live set. Nevertheless, the track itself feels less like a whole and more like a clash between two very distinct and incompatible compositions, with the better of the two only slightly winning out on this occasion.
The same sort of thing can be said about most of the other tracks on the album. “Blood We Shed”, for instance, starts off sounding like it could be the opener to the next Killswitch Engage record, before taking a turn for more Morbid Angel and Atheist-inclined territories before breaking into something that sound slike a cross between a modern Dream Theater ballad and a “battle metal” hymn, which section drags on for way too long before snapping back to its extreme setting just as abruptly; and while the accumulation of all these widespread influences sounds intriguing, In Vain never get any of them to gel together in any convincing manner. Surprisingly, the record’s later material is far more consistent. “Origin” is easily the most fully realised track on the album and, for the first time, feels like a proper continuation of Ænigma; while “As The Black Horde Storms” provides the most realised take on the more epic, war-themed folk metal approach the band have clearly sought after on this record. However, their effect is ultimately squandered by their late placement on the record, and they account for but two brief moments of inspiration amid a sea of disjointed compositions and squandered concepts.
That the album is being released as both a standard and “special”, pyhsical-only edition, with an expanded track list and drastically different running order speaks to the indecisiveness behind Currents‘ composition. Although there are some definite highlights to be had along the way, the album is ultimately too inconsistent and underwhelming on the whole to stand up as a complete package. The feeling that it regularly comes across more like a band throwing different sounds at the progressive metal wallpaper in order to see what sticks than a coherent piece is accentuated by the band’s five-year absence and the precedent set before their departure, and while the album is by no means a complete misfire, it’s hardly enough to maintain In Vain’s status for five more to come. Here’s hoping for a quick turn around, lest Currents turn out to be a valiant but ultimately doomed final charge.
Currents, in all its various guises, is out now via indie recordings.